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Georgia: Democracy’s Ground Zero

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Georgia’s gubernatorial race is being stolen in real time. Republican candidate Brian Kemp is in a neck-and-neck race with Democratic opponent Stacey Abrams. Kemp also happens to be the secretary of state, the official in charge of all of Georgia’s elections. Kemp is not only overseeing the process, but he is actively using his power to remove and block as many registered voters as he can.

According to the Associated Press, 700,000 voters were removed from the polls, upwards of 10 percent of the state. Additionally, 53,000 new voter registration applications —the majority of which were African American— were denied. Separately, election officials have also come under criticism for the rejection of hundreds of absentee ballots.

Kemp’s defense is that while the removal of a registration due to discrepancies is “unfortunate,” he had the people’s best interests at heart as he was trying to prevent voter fraud.

First off, voter fraud exists in an infinitesimal amount. A comprehensive 2014 study published in The Washington Post found that out of more than 1 billion ballots, only 31 credible instances of impersonation fraud occurred. Even this tiny statistic, a .000000031 percent chance, is likely inflated, as the study’s author counted not just prosecutions or convictions, but any suspicion at all.

Secondly, and most importantly, the method that Kemp used is wrongfully discriminatory. Last year, Kemp pushed the passage of an “exact match” voter registration law which removes registrations due to small discrepancies, such as a dropped hyphen or an extra space. Even if fraud was rampant and Kemp was truly trying to be Georgia’s knight in shining armour, the method by which he is tackling the issue is not one commonly used.

The “exact match” method simply isn’t done. It is an utterly ineffective method of aligning two populations: a voter’s information and their voter registration. It follows that Kemp chose to do so knowing that it would result in a large quantity of failed matches, which drops voters from their voting-eligible population.

Furthermore, Kemp’s administration has taken steps to disenfranchise black and minority populations. Since 2012, Kemp has closed 8 percent of Georgia’s polling locations, all of them in areas where the majority of the citizens are poor and black. Just this past summer, an election consultant (appointed by Kemp) tried to force Randolph County (a majority black, democratic district) to close seven of its nine polling locations, despite it being a geographically large county with no public transportation.

Former President Jimmy Carter penned a letter urging Kemp to resign as Georgia’s secretary of state. The letter argues that Kemp’s role as both candidate and overseer of elections threatens the public’s confidence in the voting process, especially because the state election is matching up to be extremely close.

Whether the votes Kemp has suppressed will have an influence on the outcome of the election is a moot point; the suppression is immoral regardless. Kemp is blatantly abusing his power as secretary of state to disenfranchise those who statistics show would vote against him. It is as if the referee of a soccer game also plays for one of the teams —and has a million dollar bet on his team winning.

Even if Kemp does give up his power as overseer of elections, it will not fix the damage he has already caused. Since 2012, Kemp’s office has cancelled over 1.4 million voter registrations with nearly 670,000 of those registrations being cancelled in 2017 alone. While smear talk is to be expected during a campaign, Stacey Abrams’ comment calling Kemp, “a remarkable architect of voter suppression” seems to have decent basis.

To those wondering why there isn’t a safeguard against this issue, look to the Supreme Court. In 2013, the Court nullified the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which stipulated that election officials must be held accountable for laws that could potentially disenfranchise minority voters. In effect, the Supreme Court’s decision argues that modern society is post-racial and therefore we no longer need safeguards against racially motivated voter suppression.

The numbers speak for themselves. Georgia’s population is 32 percent black and the list of voter registrations blocked by Kemp’s office is 70 percent black. To me, it doesn’t seem like discrimination has changed much at all.

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Georgia: Democracy’s Ground Zero